The Global Morphology of Wave Poynting Flux: Powering the Aurora

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Science  17 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5605, pp. 383-386
DOI: 10.1126/science.1080073

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Large-scale, electric currents flowing along magnetic field lines into the polar regions of Earth are thought to be the main contributors of the energy that powers the ionospheric aurora. However, we have found evidence for global contributions from electromagnetic waves (Alfvén waves). Data that were collected from the Polar spacecraft over the course of 1 year show that the flow of wave electromagnetic energy at altitudes of 25,000 to 38,000 kilometers delineates the statistical auroral oval. The Poynting flux of individual events distributed along the auroral oval was larger than 5 ergs per square centimeter per second, which is sufficient to power auroral acceleration processes. This evidence suggests that in addition to magnetic field-aligned currents, the dayside and nightside aurora is globally powered by the energy flow of these high-altitude Alfvén waves.

  • * Present address: Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Toulouse, France.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: akeiling{at}

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